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Faux Outrage

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Category Archives: Consumption!

The accusations began suddenly and strangely.

The bold ones would simply declare, “You are left-handed!” while those compromised by self-doubt or a sense of humility and calm would less confidentially raise this serious allegation in question form:

“You’re left-handed, right?”

“Right.”

(ABOVE) An emporium of woe.

“That’s what I thought.”

“No, right.”

“You’re a righty?”

“Yeah, right.”

“So you are a lefty?”

“No, right.”

[etc.]

These types of conversations consistently left both parties confused, and following each successful defense of my correct-handedness, the accusing party would always walk away muttering the same sentence: “I don’t know why I always thought you were a lefty.”  And I didn’t know either.  For years, I could not understand why I was so often called upon to defend myself from the serious, frightening allegations of left-handedness.

I used the regular scissors in grade school!

Notebooks are made for me and my people!

Standard manual can-openers do not frustrate me in the slightest!

And then one day, all at once, “miraculously” and without warning, I immediately realized why close companions would come to the conclusion that I was left-handed, even if they had no idea where the assumption came from: I wore a (calculator!) watch on my right wrist.  For whatever reason, I did not receive the memo explaining that you are supposed to wear your watch on your non-dominant wrist.

I guess I’ve always been a bit of a rebel.

We tend to think of watches as a wardrobe staple, but the reality is that until the First World War — when watches were tied to the wrist with a leather strap for easy access — wristwatches were thought of as exclusively within the feminine domain.  To illustrate this point, in The History and Evolution of the Wristwatch, one gentleman lets it be known that he “would sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch.”

Do you think he would be surprised to learn that today men wear both?

The common wristwatch rose in popularity throughout the early 20th century, buoyed in part by the invention of a self-winding system in 1923 by John Harwood (who is not famous enough to have a proper Wikipedia page but does have this).  By the end of the 1960’s, new electric-powered watches flooded the marketplace and by the 1980’s, electronic timekeeping devices had seized a majority control of the watch market.

It’s all true.

And yet, I think the day of reckoning has come for electronic watches.  For mechanical watches, too.  In twenty years, I would not be surprised to learn that watch market has completely collapsed, and that the folks still buying “timepieces” (as they will undoubtedly be re-branded in the future) are the same people who keep a record player in their house and/or are exclusively interested in the art and status of the watch.  Excuse me, the “piece.”

These days, though we may have many problems, we happen to know what time it is.  We have our cell phones, we have our computers, and we can tell by the position of the moon when The Daily Show is about to start.  Watches had a good run, don’t get me wrong, but I won’t be surprised when there is a 60 Minutes report in 2026 where Andy Rooney Jr. III laments the fact that we no longer have the human decency to wear watches.

Oh, and it would sound a little something like this (read in the voice of Andy Rooney):

Whatever happened to watches?  We still need to know what time it is, so why is it that people no longer wear a watch on their wrist?  My dad always wore a watch, and he was never late.  Watches don’t just tell time; they tell a story.  Why, when I was a boy, a watch was a sign of adulthood.  I got my first watch when I was 8.  My mother gave it to me.  She would tell me to be home by six o’clock, and by golly, if the minute hand — do you remember those? — one was click past 12, she would give me a time out.  I still have that watch, by the way, and every time I look at it, I remember to call my mom and make time for the woman who gave it to me.  A watch reminds us there is only so much time.

I am a little bit ahead of the trend, giving up my watch around 2004, and I am happy to report that I’ve barely noticed any change at all.

The only difference now is that nobody thinks I’m left-handed.

Not long ago, while walking from the grocery store back to my apartment, I passed a man who by all accounts — or at least one specific account, mine — was in dire straits.  My evidence?  The fact that he approached and asked me for some money.

I guess you could say I’m a bit of a detective.

Now, I’m not so obtuse as to believe that the mere fact a person asks/begs/pleads/juggles for money automatically means that he is homeless or “down on his luck” in a meaningful, dickensian way.  But I do know that whatever inspires a person to ask a stranger for money, whether it be desperation, depression, or any number of soul-crushing addictions, it is a behavior that I cannot (or perhaps choose not to) imagine exhibiting.

In that sense, if nothing else, it is fair to say that the person in this story is worse off than I can imagine.  That said, there are a couple of reasons why I felt it a tad strange — or at least a bit uninspired — that this particular man in this particular situation asked me for straight-up American currency.

Number one, I didn’t have a hand free to dig into my pockets (wherein the currency theoretically resides).  And number two, the reason I did not have a hand free to dig into my pockets was due to that fact that I was carrying two enormous bags of food.

Food, glorious food!

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I’m a softie, though, so I said to the guy, “Honestly, I don’t have any change, but how about a peach?”

A pause.

“Nah.”

Yes, after quick consideration, this man — possibly homeless — sighed out a half-hearted nah.

Nah.

I was floored.

First of all, if you’re asking strangers for money, you should at least have the decency to pretend you’re interested in using that money for food.  Food like a peach!  If nothing else, this perception needs to be a part of any money-taking routine/charade:  You pretend that you’re not going to put my $0.60 toward a Steel Reserve tallboy later on, and I pretend not to know that very same fact.

That’s the deal.

But then, as I turned the corner and headed home, my anger rapidly faded into confusion.  The more I thought about the interaction, the more I realized that the awkwardness and indignity I felt ultimately had nothing to do with poverty, politeness, shame, gentrifier’s guilt, or any social science theory neatly explained in a Sociology 101 textbook.

Nah.

This is about peaches!

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Who, no matter what his circumstances, turns down a free peach?

I don’t care if you’re looking for drug money, beer money, beer-laced-with-drugs money, or not looking for anything in particular.  When someone offers you a free peach, you take the free peach!

Peaches are wonderful.

Free peaches are manna from heaven.

As a general rule, I am intrigued by these getting-asked-for-change circumstances, but that intrigue is usually followed by a sharp, painful sort of guilt that I specifically associate with my interactions with the homeless (or “homeless” if you prefer).  Leading up to — and in the midst of — these interactions, my internal monologue shifts into detached academic mode.  I carefully weigh and consider the macro-socioeconomic issues that led to the interaction, thus diminishing the actual (“potential”) suffering taking place before me.  The ease with which I am able to quickly disassociate from a very real, upsetting interaction is an aspect of my personality that I am willing — but so far completely unable — to shake.

As a result, I’m a bit of a sucker.

I say “a bit of a sucker” as opposed to “a full-fledged sucker” because I never physically open my wallet.  When I have change — as in, physical, clangy coins in my pocket — I will give it away.  Even in the event the total amount of change surpasses $1, it is available to anyone who asks earnestly.  But I will never reach for paper bills.

The paper bills are mine.

In the 21st century, this is actually a bit of a problem if you goal is to get currency in the hands of those who request/need it.  I am still perfectly willing to give away my change, but the fact is I don’t use cash much these days.  Every transaction that I can complete using a credit card will be carried out in that manner.  Basically, I only have coins in my pocket when I am returning from a Cash Only (“tax evading”) establishment.  As a result, with each passing year — though my standard for money-distribution has not changed — the amount of cash I distribute consistently diminishes.

Presumably, I am not the only one with the “change in pocket” standard for giving money to homeless people.  My guess is that there are thousands of people who are in the same boat as me: they would give more money than they do, but because they are tied to using their credit card, they are not often provided the opportunity to do so.  In the end, the pool of “available” money for the needy shrinks as credit card usage increases.

But could this be a good thing?  Perhaps, as a result of the ever-diminishing pool of money, asking people for spare change will no longer be a functional way to raise money for your food/drugs/food-drugs.  Perhaps, to the extent that us change-givers are enabling a lifestyle that ultimately should be altered, there is a net benefit to our not having any pennies, quarters, nickles, and dimes in our pockets.

Wouldn’t that be peachy?

Meek, "Keep Your Coins I Want Change"

Today, the fictionary grows one word larger.

This is the thirteenth FWOTD.

fanatischism (fa-nat-i-skiz-uhm)
noun

a remarkable but completely avoidable cocktail of sadness and anger invariably stemming from one’s choosing to base a portion of his/her mood on the success and failures of a particular sports team or professional athlete

For example: “I am the biggest New York Mets fan in the world and can’t stand it when they lose!”

The ‘fanatischism’ explained visually in 10 seconds.

There is a great divide — a “schism” if you will — between the relationship that a fanatical sports fan believes he has with his most favorite team and the objective analysis of the relationship’s actual impact.  While the fan will claim to extract a great deal of happiness and will unquestionably justify the amount of time, energy, and money he puts into his favorite club, the reality is that far (far!) more often than not, his team will end up not winning a championship and he will be filled with pain and sadness.

And anger.

And he will transfer this anger — sometimes quietly and sometimes loudly — to his friends and loved ones.

And then those people will be sad and angry.

It is the circle of strife.

Statistically, if there are are 30 teams in a league and you are a “big fan” for 60 years, you will see your team win a championship twice.  You will see your team not win a championship 58 times.  Statistically.  And even in rare instances (roughly 3% of the time) where the favorite team does end up winning a championship, the joy is fleeting because another season is just around the corner.

It seems appropriate, then, to ask whether we are being fair to ourselves when we invest a huge amount of our emotional energy to root for people who do not care about us to do arbitrary things in order to win an particular set of games influenced by officials prone to human error in an league environment that — in an ideal universe — should lead to a small, fleeting window of euphoria in 3% of the years we spend invested?

Packers fans one short season after a SuperBowl victory

I suppose this analysis isn’t very interesting, except for the fact that we sports fans do this to ourselves for reasons that are not entirely clear.  There are very few rational reasons to root for a particular sports team/athlete, especially in the today’s completely demystified corporate sports environment.

Each season we witness our favorite athletes speak calmly and clearly into microphones around the world: This is a business.  You have to understand this is a business.  College athletes don’t make this point particular because they themselves do not get paid, but they probably should since it’s probably not an enormous coincidence that the NCAA brought in over $840 million in 2010-2011.

We know it is a business.

It is patently obvious that our professed love and unapologetic irrationality is being leveraged against us for economic gain, and we don’t seem to mind.

But maybe we should.

Let’s hash out the two sides of the sports fan relationship:

Fan’s View of Relationship With Team

  1. Chooses team usually based on proximity and/or tradition
  2. Cares deeply about outcome of games/seasons
  3. Spends money to show support for team
  4. Spends time monitoring progress of team
  5. Professes love and adoration for team employees

Team’s View of Relationship With Fan

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In the end, we are choosing to make enormous emotional, temporal, and financial commitments to people and entities who couldn’t care less about us and are engaging in a behaviors that have no meaningful impact on the real world.  

Unless, of course, your team wins — or loses! — a championship.

Fanatics after their team wins championship!

Fanatics after their team loses championship!

Warning! This is another grocery store post.

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A lot of folks are upset about this Dr. Pepper 10 commercial because the product is being advertised to men in a gender-negative way that is at best alienating and at worst insulting to women.  I’m annoyed by Dr. Pepper 10, too, but my frustration stems not from the question of whether it is socially acceptable to market a product to 49% of the world’s population by cinematically flicking off the other 51%.

Quite frankly, I’m not concerned about how Dr. Pepper 10 is being marketed.

I resent that it exists at all.

There are any number of cliched reasons to be anti-soda/pop/coke.

Most of us agree that, as a rule, these carbonated comfort drinks contain zero nutrition, unapologetically destroy our teeth (with fun bubbles!), and are so inexpensive that there is a serious economic incentive to fill our bodies — and our children’s bodies — with fizzy stuff instead of any liquid that resembles actual food intended for human consumption (like juice)!

And yet, none of these reasons are the root of why I believe we — men and women! — should know better than to purchase Dr. Pepper 10.

Put simply, Dr. Pepper 10 is barely a unique product.

Here are the other products in the non-“flavored” Dr. Pepper family:

  1. Dr. Pepper / 100 calories, caffeine
  2. Dr. Pepper (Diet) / 0 calories, caffeine
  3. Dr. Pepper (Caffeine Free) / 100 calories, 0 caffeine
  4. Dr. Pepper (Diet, Caffeine Free) / 0 calories, 0 caffeine

So far as I can tell, those four products match the four “desire states” that lead to purchasing Dr. Pepper-based liquid.

  1. I like the flavor (Dr. Pepper)
  2. I like the flavor, but not the calories (Dr. Pepper-Diet)
  3. I like the flavor, but not the caffeine (Dr. Pepper-Caffeine Free)
  4. I like the flavor, but not the calories nor caffeine (Dr. Pepper-Diet, Caffeine Free)

This “new” product is merely a 10 calorie version of Dr. Pepper.  In other words, Dr. Pepper 10 is Diet Dr. Pepper plus ten calories.

Ten.

Of course it’s true that 10 calories is infinitely larger than zero calories, but it’s still fair to ask: What brand of consumer is turned off by a zero calorie version of Dr. Pepper (Diet Dr. Pepper) but would instead be compelled to purchase a ten calorie drink (Dr. Pepper 10) who is not purchasing Dr. Pepper?  The commercials plainly state that Dr. Pepper 10 is being marketed towards men, but “men” is not the group that buys it.

So which consumer group is it?

The Indecisive, of course.

Yes, the Indecisive!  You know, the folks who buy 1% milk instead of 2% or skim, neapolitan ice cream instead of a real flavor, and prefer “low fat” to “no fat.”  They buy paper plates made from recycled materials and prefer their ranch dressing “on the side.”  They like medium “hot” sauce, don’t eat meat (except chicken), and just want a couple bites of your dessert.

And of course, they invented the spork.

Dr. Pepper 10 gives these indecisive consumers an opportunity to “choose” between products that are barely discernible (Diet Dr. Pepper and Dr. Pepper 10).  Grocery patrons that specialize in baby-splitting can show their off their (non-)decision-making prowess by grabbing the thing in the “middle” (10 calories vs. 0 or 100 calories).

And though doing so feels like a choice, the reality is that when you buy Dr. Pepper 10, what you’re buying is not an exciting new product — and barely a new product at all — but a tangible representation of your inability to show any kind of commitment or decision-making skills.

So while it’s true that Dr. Pepper 10 commercials exclusively directed at men are insulting to one of the genders, it might not be the one that you think.

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It no longer seems like a miracle that kids who grow up in one part of the country have eerily similar coming-of-age experiences as those who grew up three timezones away.  I will forever be baffled by the notion that 80’s/90’s kids in both New York and California — without the luxury of the Internet nor the patience for pen-palling — enjoyed/endured the same schoolyard taunts, shared the same (hilariously false) rumors about the relationship between Pop Rocks and soda/pop/cola/Coke, and had the same two-dimensional love affair with a pair of stereotypically Italian plumbing brothers.

As children, we were also — from coast to coast — bound by certain identical rules.  The conventional wisdom is that each generation is raised by a particular set of parents who were themselves raised in a particular environment, read a particular book written by a particular psychologist spouting a particular theory of child development.  (And then we all turn out the same.)  But regardless of the era, a few rules have held remarkably steady:

  1. Do not talk to strangers
  2. Do not accept candy from strangers
  3. Avoid situations that are frightening

Those are The Rules.

The Rules must be followed at all times.

Or else.

Period!

Except, as it turns out, on Halloween — or as I like to call it — Opposite Day.

Here are The Rules on Opposite Day:

  1. Talk to ALL strangers
  2. Accept ALL candy from strangers
  3. Hooray for scary things!

On Halloween, we take these three completely universalizable, seemingly reasonable rules and — with a dismissive, Snickers-stained handwave — pish-posh our tightly held convictions from 24 hours earlier.  We have decided, as a society, that for one special day, up is down, left is right, and stranger candy is our nation’s most fantastic resource.

We live in a culture where telling a young girl that she looks like a princess and offering her a selection of fine candies is adorable in the pitch black night of October 31st…and grounds for a police investigation when the sun comes up in November.

All of this is not to say that our time spent celebrating this chocolatey pagan festival would be better spent safely contained within a panic room where no strangers can see or talk to or offer our children Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (if they are lucky) or peanuts, butter, and cups (if they are not).  In fact, most of us would rather live in a community where we can (and do!) trust our neighbors — even the neighbors we do not know! — than a collection of individuals cemented into their homes protected by the highest white picket fences allowable by law.

But at the very least, we should recognize when we are sending mixed messages to future generations, especially when the message we most often send — that we should be skeptical of the intentions of those around us — is more cynical and anti-social than the less-often sent.  Halloween is a day when we purposefully let our guard down, allow ourselves to be a little frightened, allow ourselves to talk to and to be talked to by strangers.  It is a day to look into the eyes of our neighbors and their children and see kindness, thanks, and a common understanding: that candy is delicious and smiling is contagious.

In many ways, Halloween is indeed Opposite Day.  But I think we should ask ourselves: does it have to be?

(For more Faux Outrage about Halloween — from 2002! — click here.)

 

Faux Word of the Day actually started out as a joke between me and myself, a pretty standard communication these days.  Since I only had one faux word at the time (punintentional), the idea was that the series would be a one-parter:  One word.  One day.  One joke.

The end.

But as with most things in my life, especially when it comes to jokes, I don’t know when to stop.  (That’s what she said.)  And so, shortly thereafter, we learned about:

And now, here we are with the latest edition: expertease.

expertease (ex-per-teez)
noun

the condition of having  a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area such that the depth of understanding inadvertently but severely degrades the individual’s ability to enjoy reasonably sufficient goods or services.

For example: “Ever since I spent that semester in Scotland surrounded by 30-year single malts, I can’t even bring myself to take a sip of Johnny Walker Black.  What an expertease.”

Expertease is a bit of conundrum.

Essentially, the more educated or experienced you are in certain areas of life, the less able you are to extract happiness from situations that draw upon that knowledge.

Education of course can (and should!) prevent you from continuing to make horrible choices, like the first time I tried a microbrew (Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale, I believe) and decided that Keystone Light just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  But at a certain point, you suddenly find yourself so keenly aware and your tastes so refined that you are no longer willing to accept objectively average or even slightly-above-average product.

Basically, when you hit the point of expertease, your knowledge becomes so great that that you…

  1. are no longer able to enjoy a reasonably acceptable class of product that was once a source of pleasure
  2. find yourself spending more money and/or time in order to meet your newfound, pinkie-out high standards
  3. become completely insufferable and impossible to hang out

For your sake and the sake of those around you, be wary of expertease!

Confucius once said,

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

I have a feeling Confucius spent a ton of money on fancy scotch.

Ain’t technology (and awkward folksy speech) grand?

Every so often, in the midst of an all-to-common daydream (the one where I am doing the opposite of whatever I am actually doing), I am comforted by how wonderful it is to live in a time when most of my otherwise fatal — or at the very least, highly destructive — flaws are muted by the tangible result of a long line of expertly developed technologies.

For example, I can’t spell, but what I can do is press F7 and notice red squiggly lines beneath my unintentionally-though-irresponsibly-lettered words!  My sense of direction is as developed as my extra sensory perception, but I have no trouble following the soothing, robotic instructions from that not-quite-British lady’s voice on a GPS.  I’m a terrible hunter (probably?), but man, these modern food delivery systems really make eating really, really simple!

Technology: quite grand, indeed.

And yet, as the years go by, as technologists continue to technologize technologizingly, there are folks who wish to turn back the clock — to the extent that we still physically “turn back” clocks, which we don’t, because clocks are digital now.  We have somehow gotten to the point where the phrase “turn back the clock” has evolved into an example of the days-of-yore notion it references. It’s pretty incredible, actually: a saying that hearkens back to the past is completely outdated.  So, as a general rule of thumb, the next time you wish to accuse someone of being a Luddite (Ludditity?), do not fist-poundingly declare that they wish “to turn back the clock” unless you are trying to score some serious irony points.

I digress.

(Really.  It’s what I do.)

(Also, I do a lot of typing in parenthesis.)

Anyway, back to the intersection between food delivery systems and technology.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that the development of food preservation technologies radically changed the course of human history.  By storing and modifying foods in such a way as to increase their shelf-life, people were able to apportion time otherwise spent on fresh food prep for, well, pretty much anything else.  And that was a good thing, except when that “anything else” time was used for causing destruction and general mayhem.  Food preservation led to reduction of illness (though an increase in slicing-your-hand-open-on-jagged-can), extended life expectancy, and enabled complex communities to form by centralizing food production, which allowed people to focus on developing other socially useful skills (like clock-making!).

Preservatives changed the world!  For the better!

And yet, today, “preservative” is a bad word.  Preservatives are not to be trusted, consumed, or ever even purchased in the first place.  We are now inundated with reports that they will make you sick, ruin your local community, and even kill you in the long term!  In other words, the opposite of the actual history of food preservation.

Of course, there are good reasons for buying preservative-free food when preservation is not at the top of your list of concerns, but let’s cut these world-changers some slack.

So please, when you’re standing in line so you can pay twice as much for bread that will last 15% as long, just know that one of the primary reasons you’re able to make the choice to live a highbrow, organic lifestyle is due to the trail blazed by those pesky, icky preservatives you’re paying so much to avoid.

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